How To Help Keep a Senior Pet Out of the Shelter

senior brown dog side portrait
credit: Visual Hunt

In an ideal world, every pet finds their perfect forever family and gets to spend their last days in the warm and safe confines of the home that means the world to them. Unfortunately, that scenario is simply not the case for many senior pets, who end up in the care of a local shelter or rescue organization and often spend the remainder of their lives there.

November is Adopt a Senior Pet Month, so these senior pets are on our minds. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take that may help keep your senior, or the aging pet of someone you know, out of the shelter system.

Why do senior pets end up in shelters?

Like any pet, seniors can end up in shelters and rescues for a number of reasons. Often, you'll hear of heartbreaking stories of pet owners trading in their beloved family pet for a "newer model." While these cases are certainly not uncommon, there are additional issues that can lead to a dog or cat spending her golden years in a shelter — a major one being a financial strain. Because older dogs tend to develop more physical impairments than younger varieties, the cost of healthcare can become too much for some people, who then feel they have no choice but to give up their pet. Alternatively, some pet owners may find themselves facing hard times financially, and cannot make ends meet with an elderly animal to care for.

Senior calico cat closeup cute face portrait looking straight with funny expression, big green eyes, bokeh
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Other circumstances can also lead a senior dog away from home. Old Dog Haven lists the passing of an elderly caretaker as one of their top reasons for senior surrenders. Additionally, dogs may be sent to a shelter as a result of divorce, when their owners are relocating and cannot take their pet with them, and when a new baby is brought home, to name a few. In some cases, surrender is the owner's choice, and they cannot or will not be talked out of it — which is unfortunate and frustrating, but true. Sometimes, however, steps can be taken to lift the burden that may lead pet owners to the tough decision to surrender their companion animals.

How to keep your senior pet at home

If your issue is financial, Best Friends has created a comprehensive list of resources throughout the country that offers financial aid to pet owners in need, including senior citizens, and people seriously ill or disabled. If you or someone you know is moving and fears that they won't be able to take their companion animal with them, The Senior Dogs Project has created an easy-to-follow rundown of sources designed to help people find pet-friendly housing. People with Pets is a nationwide resource for pet owners looking to relocate with their animals, and My Pitbull is Family offers options for those looking to rent despite certain breed restrictions, which can make moving even harder.

It's important to note that, while in some cases an owner surrender case can certainly be avoided, there are countless pet owners out there who truly have little to no other option than to give their companion up. Many senior citizens, for example, can simply not afford to care for their aging pets, or perhaps, can no longer drive to get their animal to a veterinarian, or to the store for food. Whatever the case, it's important not to judge everyone who turns their senior pet in — for many, it may be one of the toughest decisions they've ever been forced to make. Instead, there are actions you can take if you notice a senior pet on the brink of surrender due to outside circumstances.

Happy senior woman cuddling her dog
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How to help a senior pet in need

Sometimes, it's not our own dog or cat who needs assistance. If you know someone who is having trouble caring for their senior pet, and may be considering surrender, there are steps you can take to help make surrender an absolute last resort.

If you notice a senior citizen in your area who is having trouble caring for his pet for financial reasons, you could consider setting up a Kickstarter or GoFundMe page. These fundraisers can be shared across social media platforms to raise money for a pet in need, which can be especially helpful when offered to a member of your community who wouldn't otherwise be able to do so. Finally, if you can't prevent a senior surrender, you can still do your part by adopting or fostering a senior pet, or donating your time or money to an organization with senior pets in need.